'The Parts You Lose': Film Review

Dramatically inert.
10/4/2019

Aaron Paul plays an injured criminal who forms an emotional connection with a young deaf boy in Christopher Cantwell's thriller, which also features Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Scoot McNairy.

A scenario rife with dramatic potential gets squandered in Christopher Cantwell's bleak drama set in an even bleaker, wintry North Dakota. Depicting the burgeoning friendship between a 10-year-old deaf boy and a seriously wounded bank robber (played by Aaron Paul) whom he secretly nurses back to health, The Parts You Lose somehow manages to be both unmoving and tension-free, wasting the talents of several notable actors in the process. Anyone eager to see a film featuring Paul as a hardened criminal would be advised to wait one week until the arrival of the Breaking Bad sequel.

The story revolves around Wesley (Danny Murphy, deaf in real life and delivering the pic's standout performance), who lives with his lovingly supportive mother (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and younger sister in the sort of weathered Midwestern home that might have been painted by Norman Rockwell. Wesley's dad (Scott McNairy) seems to be away from the household for long stretches at a time, but his frequent absences aren't lamented by the young boy, since his hard-drinking, borderline abusive father refuses to learn sign language and clearly has anger issues.

Wesley's life outside of home isn't much better. His condition results in him constantly getting bullied at school, especially by one young miscreant who torments him by repeatedly putting mucous in Wesley's hair.

When Wesley unexpectedly comes across a bleeding, unconscious man (Paul) lying on the snowy ground near his home, he impulsively decides to drag the mysterious stranger into an abandoned barn. (Why exactly he would do this, theoretically putting his mother and sister in danger, is but one of the mysteries of Darren Lemke's thinly written screenplay.)

Slowly recovering thanks to the food and medical supplies that Wesley sneaks to him, the unnamed fugitive attempts to get to know his young helpmate despite the obvious problems in communication. Discovering that Wesley is deaf, the man sardonically tells him, "Don't worry, you're not missing much." A friendly relationship develops, with the criminal becoming a sort of brusque father figure to the emotionally vulnerable child. Guessing about Wesley's problems at school, he also coaches him on the best way to get back at the bullies, namely by slamming them with a backpack filled with coins from his piggy bank.

All of this could have effectively played out in either a touching or disturbing manner. Unfortunately, the interactions are mainly tedious and drama-free, the dramatic highlight being a vigorously played game of checkers. Nor is any suspense generated by the manhunt for the fugitive, mainly depicted through television news reports and a visit to the home by a U.S. marshal who quietly but ominously warns Wesley and his mother of the possible danger they face.

By telling its story at such an unhurried, ponderous pace that you feel every minute slowly ticking by, the movie never achieves its desired impact. The performers seem overqualified for the material: Winstead's natural charisma is tamped down by the drabness of her character; the usually reliable McNairy (who starred on the director's critically acclaimed AMC television series Halt and Catch Fire) proves unable to make his stereotypical role of the embittered, distant father sufficient distinctive; and Paul, although he underplays admirably, seems to be recycling familiar tropes. It's only young Murphy, speaking just a single word in the entire film, who manages to pull us in emotionally.

Production companies: The H Collective, Gran Via Productions
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Aaron Paul, Scoot McNairy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Danny Murphy
Director: Christopher Cantwell
Screenwriter: Darren Lemke
Producers: Mark Johnson Tom Williams, Aaron Paul, Kent Huang
Director of photography: Evans Brown
Production designer: Rejean Labrie
Editor: Heather Persons
Composer: Austin Fray
Costume designer: Heather Neale
Casting: Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas

94 minutes